In Chip Kelly's third season back in the Pac-12, he leads the UCLA Bruins to Autzen Stadium for the second time. Kelly is seeking his first win against the program where he gained national prominence, first as offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008, then winning three straight Pac-10/12 championships during a remarkably, four-year head coaching tenure from 2009 through 2012.
Despite a recent dip, the Oregon Ducks are back at the pinnacle of the conference in Mario Cristobal's third year at the helm. The Ducks cruised past Stanford in the season opener, then rallied with a monster second half for a two-touchdown win last week at Washington State. Oregon is a clear favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champion, but UCLA presents an interesting challenge in the lone, cross-division matchup for both teams prior to the seeded regular-season finale.
UCLA at Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oregon -13.5
When UCLA Has the Ball
While its seven wins in Kelly's first two seasons are the ultimate indicator of a disappointing start to this era, UCLA's tendency to have long stretches of offensive stagnation is perhaps the most surprising part of the Bruins' struggles. Kelly was renowned for his offensive innovation at Oregon, but introduced entirely different looks through the first two years at UCLA.
After a dismal first half in the opener at Colorado, the UCLA offense has come alive thanks to a heavy emphasis on the run game and its multidimensional look. Speedster Demetric Felton, a converted slot receiver, ripped up a vaunted Cal defense last Sunday, Brittain Brown emerged as a dangerous change-of-pace option, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson's dual-threat playmaking added an extra layer of difficulty for opponents.
Oregon's defense must harass Thompson-Robinson early and often to disrupt the essential option elements of the Bruins offense, a task that starts with Kayvon Thibodeaux. The standout sophomore has yet to record a sack on the season, and the Ducks as a team have just one by freshman Noah Sewell.
When Oregon Has the Ball
Mario Cristobal made arguably the best offseason hire when he tabbed Joe Moorhead to run the Ducks' offense. As head coach at Fordham and coordinator at Penn State, Moorhead's game plan unlocked the potential of running backs Chase Edmonds and Saquon Barkley, and he's had a similar impact with CJ Verdell.
Verdell is the star of a multifaceted rushing attack, which also has used Travis Dye as something of a Swiss Army knife; his touchdown reception on a wheel route last week was one of the prettiest plays run thus far in the Pac-12 season. Pretty also describes the ball quarterback Tyler Shough threw.
Shough's had some impressive throws, but also been fortunate to avoid calamity a few times. He must limit the potential for turnovers against pressure — and he can expect plenty of pressure from Osa Odighizuwa. Odighizuwa's coming off a monster performance in the Bruins' blowout of Cal.
Oregon fell behind Washington State by two touchdowns last week before turning to a higher gear. Once the Ducks start rolling, they're incredibly tough to stop. It's similar to how the program operated in the Chip Kelly era, although then the style was a much more dizzying process, the quick-strike offense piling up points to turn a close game into a blowout in a hurry.
The current Oregon style is more like a python, constricting its opponent over time by pounding away on the offense and punishing the defense via long drives. UCLA showed it can counterpunch and then some against Cal, a team that thrives when it can stifle its opponent's offense. The Bruins need to replicate that feat on the road against an Oregon bunch with a much deeper offense.
Prediction: Oregon 38, UCLA 20
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.